When she was rejected by men time and again for being child-free by choice, Rosie Mullender turned to a Maybe Baby counsellor for a way to change her mind
Words by Rosie Mullender
Some people choose not to have children for a number of reasons: environmental, circumstantial, financial. But I’ve known ever since I was a child that babies wouldn’t feature in my life. While other kids brushed their Barbies’ hair, I wheeled teddy bears around in a pushchair. Playing ‘mum’ never figured in my games, and even back then, it made me feel different and excluded. Was there something wrong with me?
Before I go on, I want to stress I’m in no way comparing the difficulties of being child-free by choice with wanting children you can’t have. I can’t imagine the pain of experiencing that craving and being unable to fulfil it. But while the proportion of women who will never have children has doubled in a generation, with 18% of women who turned 45 in 2016 remaining child-free, the struggles which come with that choice are often underestimated. We’re the ones enjoying cheap term-time holidays, so what do we have to complain about?
But often I’ve wanted, more than anything, to want children. To be able to press a button, activate my biological clock, and experience the one thing which, essentially, we’re all here to do. Which is how I found myself visiting a Maybe Baby coach, specialising in helping women – and occasionally men – to navigate their way through their conflicting feeling.
I didn’t question my choice until I was 32, and Tom,* my boyfriend of eight years, ended our relationship because I didn’t want children. I’d always been honest with him, but until his own nephew was born, he’d never been sure about his own feelings – and when he finally made his decision, the fallout was devastating.
One colleague asked why I couldn’t just have children to keep him, because I’d probably like it – as if carrying and raising a baby was the equivalent of eating kale chips. More than one person told me I’d want them ‘when you meet the right man,’ effectively writing off a relationship that had lasted longer than many marriages.
I couldn’t even rail at my ex in cathartic anger. He wanted to be a father, the most natural thing in the world, so he deserved sympathy, not censure. I was left wondering: if the relationship had ended because I couldn’t have kids, rather than because I wouldn’t, would I still feel like the bad guy?
But most of all, I was devastated that I hadn’t been enough for him without the promise of future children. And as I tentatively started dating again, I realised I wouldn’t be enough for a lot of men. As a society, we tend to see women as the ones who want children, while men cheerfully go along with it. But even if the idea of having children feels like a vague, ‘someday’ notion, that choice being removed altogether can be an instant dealbreaker.
Most dating sites ask if you want children to make matches, and by choosing ‘no,’ my pool of potential suitors dropped alarmingly. After meeting someone promising through Twitter, I had a vivid dream about telling him I didn’t want children, and being physically pushed away. Worried about his reaction when he found out, I wrote a tweet about my child-free choice. Our date was swiftly cancelled, and never reinstated.
Another man, after explaining my choice, was adamant he wanted children, so we agreed to see each other on a casual basis. I realised this was a terrible idea when he started writing heartfelt blog posts about what to do when the woman you love won’t bear your child (the fact that the feeling wasn’t mutual seemed to have passed him by).
Research has shown that women who choose not to have children feel more pressure to become mothers than other childfree women – and the constant rejections were becoming hard to bear. I wondered if there was a way to make myself want children. Was there perhaps a part of myself that would love to procreate, if only I could unlock it? It felt like life would be so much easier if I could be the same as everyone else.
Searching online, I came across Tick-Tock Coaching, run by a woman called Beth Follini, and booked my own ‘Maybe Baby’ session. Beth focuses on examining fears around parenthood, and putting them under the spotlight.
‘If you’re not sure if you want children, ask yourself, “What am I scared of? What am I anxious about?”’ Beth told me during my session with her. ‘You might worry that you won’t be a good mother, that you won’t be as good as your own mother, or that having children mightaffect your career. Once you’ve identified those fears, it’s necessary to work out if they’re based in reality – what makes you think you’ll be a bad mother? Would children really wreck your career?’
I explained that a big fear about having children involved losing my identity – once children enter your life, your needs are subsumed by theirs. My greatest fear, though, was being judged and alone because of a decision that felt no more like a choice than the colour of my eyes.
Beth told me this was a common concern, so women who are wavering should examine their motivations for wanting a child – or, in my case, wanting to want one. ‘I ask women to ask themselves: Am I making the decision for myself, or for other people? Is having children just what’s expected of me, or what I really want?’ she told me. As we talked for an hour, it became clear that I genuinely don’t want children.
I’m not even one of those who claim they ‘absolutely love being an auntie!’ –I simply lack the gene that makes me want to sniff babies’ heads. Beth suggested that perhaps, rather than having a hidden desire for children, maybe I really just wanted to be accepted for who I am– and I left her office feeling much lighter. I was right not to have had children I didn’t want in order to keep a man. Now I just had to find one who felt the same.
Holding fast to this new confidence, it eventually happened: I met Don, my fiancé. We’d been following each other on Twitter for years, but had never met in person. He already knew plenty about me: that I loved pizza and puns, had a fondness for creepy trinkets and, crucially, didn’t want children. The moment we met, something clicked – and now, we’re looking forward to a child-free future together.
There’s still a part of me which feels like I’m missing out. I’m not worried about who’ll look after me when I’m old, even though that’s the first thing most people ask (I reason I can always spend the £230,000 I’ve saved by not having a child on hiring some Butlers in the Buff).
But my friends have stepped through a door I’ll never walk through – one which has changed their lives forever – and I can’t help feeling curious about what’s on the other side. I’ll never know what it’s like to carry a child, or see one grow up with my eyes and Don’s nose. But at least now, thanks to Beth, I know for sure that I’m on the right side of that door for me.
*Name has been changed
About Tick Tock Coaching
After training with the Coaches Training Institute and earning accreditation from the International Coaches Federation, Beth Follini launched Tick Tock Coaching in 2006. Sessions last for one hour and cost between £65 and £110, depending on income. As well as face to face sessions in London, Beth offers phone coaching and Skype sessions to people living outside London and the UK. Head to Ticktockcoaching.co.uk/for more details.